McCann Australia CEO Ash Farr departing for global role heading up Chevrolet strategy

Detroit bound: Ash Farr

Detroit bound: Ash Farr

McCann’s Australia CEO Ash Farr is leaving the agency after landing a global role as director of strategy and research on the prestigious General Motors Chevrolet account, Mumbrella can reveal.

Farr is the second of the trio of Smart agency partners installed at the helm of McCann after a reverse takeover in 2011 to move to a global role, following former national executive creative director John Mescall’s elevation to global ECD last year.

The remaining Smart founder and chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup Ben Lilley told Mumbrella the agency would be moving to a new localised structure led by the managing directors of its Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane agencies.

He said: “When we first took over the McCann operation there were a number of challenges we needed to face pretty immediately, reinvigorating and turning around the agency in terms of growth and its product, and they were national challenges. A lot of the challenges and opportunities were very similar across the Melbourne and Sydney offices and we introduced a Queensland office as well, so that made sense to have a nationalised approach.

Localised structure: Lilley

Localised structure: Lilley

“Obviously a huge amount has changed for the better in the McCann business since then including a significant amount of growth, and as that’s happened we’ve been able to fill out the management teams across the offices. We also have dedicated ECDs so really it’s been a matter of an evolving structure – where a centralised structure made sense when we first joined but now a localised structure makes sense.”

But Lilley stressed the offices are still “absolutely aligned” in their outlooks and offerings, but to manage them both on a national basis is “too much for any one person”.

Farr joined Smart in 2004 when Lilley started the Sydney office, and was an integral part of the team which turned around McCann. In 2013 it became the most awarded agency in Australia with one of the most awarded campaigns of all time – Dumb Ways to Die for Metro Trains – which has now been viewed 113m times on Youtube.

His new role will see him return to his roots as a strategist on one of the biggest car brands in the world Chevrolet, which is owned by GM which also counts Holden and Buick amongst its other brands. He will be based in the Detroit office of Commonwealth/McCann from January 2016 with the title EVP global director of strategy and research.

Farr said: “I am extremely proud of the McCann Australia team and what we have achieved for our clients. I have been very fortunate to work with and lead such a talented group of people within the agency but work alongside also with great clients who want to make a difference to their businesses.

“To turn around such a famous agency as McCann has been extremely hard work but very rewarding. With three outstanding managing directors in Adam Lee in Sydney, Adrian Mills in Melbourne and Joe Sands in Queensland continuing our fantastic work alongside Ben, the business is in great hands and ready to be taken to the next level.

“As a result, I can look forward to the next chapter of my career with McCann in this incredible new role.”​

In July McCann Melbourne group account director Jacki Currie also moved to New York as SVP executive account director on L’Oreal Paris USA.

On the future for McCann in Australia Lilley said it was still focussed on “game changing” creativity for its clients, and flagged it would continue to move towards a full service operation which would include media planning.

“The biggest challenge for all of our clients is how they integrate all of those into a cohesive and compelling brand story which is clear to consumers and is motivating to consumers,” he added. “The evolution of our reative and strategic offering is geared to how we can best achieve that integration on behalf of our clients.”

Global ECD: John Mescall

Global ECD: John Mescall

He flagged content and data and analytics as areas it is evolving into, but said he did not see the point in creating separate agency sub-brands to house these disciplines in, as some other agencies have.

“I think sometimes like doctors are their own worst patients agencies are their own worst clients when it comes to how they brand and evolve their own creative offerings,” he said. “Sometimes a lot of creative agencies can’t help themselves when it comes to whacking a new name or logo on another service offering, and sometimes it’s done because it’s a genuinely differentiated offering, and sometimes it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors to try and convince a client they’ve got these separate capabilites.

“The truth is the opportunities that are coming our way are the result clients are being let down by the siloed approaches they’ve had across marketing services, whether that’s by an agency with siloed services or what should be an integrated panel of lots of specialists who can’t properly collaborate or co-ordinate their work.

“For me trying to silo these different areas of specialisation risks repeating the very problem our clients are trying to escape which is too many different people doing too many different things across their marketing services.”

Alex Hayes




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